Logical Thinking LO21799

John Gunkler (jgunkler@sprintmail.com)
Tue, 1 Jun 1999 11:55:31 -0500

Replying to LO21770 --


Thanks very much for your response. I, too, feel much compatibility
between us. I won't disagree with any of your conclusions but I don't
share some of the experiences you mention.

For example, you say you assume that "everybody expressing anything has
something sensible in mind." Maybe I'm just too cynical, but I don't
assume that. Too many people have something underhanded, illegal,
immoral, or just selfish in mind. How many times have I seen someone on
television claiming that they have the "cure" for overweight problems? I
DO apply my crap detector to such statements, and I ask myself, "What
possible benefit is there to this person if I choose to just accept their
statement without examination?" If there are obvious benefits, I am less
inclined to accept what they say.

In any persuasive context it is a plausible assumption (I believe) that
the other person has a motive -- to get you to accept their conclusions.
So, it is okay (I think) to examine that motive to see what may lie behind
it -- but, even more important, it is a signal to examine the argument
very carefully to make sure that they "play fair."

I just heard part of a recent speech by Noam Chomsky. Here is just one
thing he did:

Step 1: He first cited some obscure sentences, taken out of context,
where Isaac Newton admitted his DISCOMFORT with adding such an abstract
concept as "force" to the rational, "hard" science of physics. [Sorry for
the capital letters, but I needed to call attention to this word.] He then
cited a couple of other sentences (Note: he always used just one phrase or
sentence at a time, never any context in which it was embedded) from
Newton's contemporaries agreeing with this discomfort.

Step 2: Many minutes later he referred to this discomfort as signaling
the time when "Newton DISAVOWED the 'machine' theory of the world." He
explained, briefly, that Newton, far from espousing a machine theory of
physics, had actually added a non-machine concept to his explanation.
[Note: These are only Chomsky's conclusions, although one could not tell
this from the way he presented them!!]

Step 3: Many minutes later he once again referred to Newton's discomfort
with the concept of force as the time when "Newton DISPROVED the machine
theory of the world."

Step 4: Many minutes later he had built an entire edifice to his thesis
that there is a "ghost in the machine" and that "human mind, including
human language" are not, in principle, reducible to cellular-level
understanding of the brain -- and claimed that it followed directly from
Isaac Newton's work!

Now, this is surely worth looking at with suspicion. The man, Chomsky, is
a master at pseudo-deductive explanations -- he does it so well that most
people seem to arrive at his conclusions thinking "that must be true"
although some, like me, have a feeling of unease (something like an upset
stomach) with how they got there.

Yes, he (and others who are excellent at rhetoric -- like Adolf Hitler or
Bill Clinton, to name just two politicians) have something sensible (to
their purposes) in mind. But you had better believe that my crap detector
will be working overtime as I listen to them!


"John Gunkler" <jgunkler@sprintmail.com>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <rkarash@karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>